By Tony Udemba
The Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Uchenna Orji, has explained how the state governor, Dave Umahi’s uncommon transformation turned the state into Dubai of Africa. In this exclusive interview with the Daily Sun, he described how Umahi’s administration had opened up the economy of the state, recorded landmark achievements, and indeed, transformed the state into an African Dubai among other issues concerning Ndigbo and the nation at large.
How would you describe the level of development in Ebonyi State before the coming of Dave Umahi as Governor?
Before 2015, successive governments did their best for the development of the state, but their best was not good enough. Then, the state had no voice. It had no human capital; infrastructure was in shambles. The state was like a glorified village. But, in 2015, about 20 years after the creation of the state, when the country was in economic recession, Umahi contested for the governorship of the state and won overwhelmingly, becoming the first deputy governor in history, to become a Governor without the support of the establishment. He rolled out development programmes, indentifying and prioritizing the critical needs of the state, including infrastructure and facilities for socio-economic development and human capital development to give a sense of self worth and esteem, and of course, ethical orientation and revolution. In doing all of these, Umahi connected the entire Local Government Areas (LGAs) through solid roads construction, with each LGA having not less than 25 kilometres of roads.
What is the government’s plan towards the development of the solid minerals and agricultural sectors in the state, including the industrialization of Ebonyi?
Gov Umahi believes that the industrial development of the state is quite critical to the overall socio-economic development of the state. That is why he has always given attention in that direction. Apart from the construction of access roads and the development of other critical sectors, he ensured that legislations were put in place to attract foreign and local investors to the state. In order to boost food production in the state, he introduced commercialization and mechanization of agriculture. He made it compulsory for public office holders, civil servants and others, to access at least, a hectare for farming. To encourage and stimulate them into farming, he supported them with modern farming tools such as tractors, bulldozers, planters and harvesters, as well as seedlings, fertilizers, best farming practices, technologies and others. He also created programmes and provided funding for agro businesses, aimed at encouraging young people and school leavers to venture into agro businesses. Today, agro business is the way to go, and very popular among everybody in Ebonyi State. The governor ensured that adequate funding is made available for primary production, secondary production and tertiary production in agriculture. Every year, the governor turns out about 50,000 farmers in the state, who are funded with not less than N250,000 per person to go into farming.
He has also created a robust programme for the quarry and mining industries to boost rapid development in the sector, through the opening up of access roads and giving proper orientations to rural communities, where the industries are located. The aim is to attract and create enabling environment to encourage companies to set up their businesses in any part of Ebonyi State without any hiccups, with the overall aim of making every part of the state an industrial hub and industrial free zone. With these industries springing up in different parts of the state, jobs will be created in the rural communities for the skilled, semi skilled and unskilled labour. He has divided the state into three zones or industrial clusters. For example, in Uburu, we have the industrial cluster where all forms of trades – vocational, agro-based and others, are thriving. It is one of the biggest in the South East and South South, Nigeria. We also have the rice milling plant, which has the capacity of feeding the entire South East and South South. The rice milling plant has a total of over 24 metric tons capacity per hour. Similarly, the government-owned parboiling plant has a total capacity of 32 MT per hour.
Again, the governor is doing a lot to make civil servants and public servants very comfortable through the establishment of estates in the state. Today, there is on-going construction of federal housing estate for civil servants in Uburu, as well as the King David Estate, designed to be the best in Africa. These are some of the developments and transformations taking place in Ebonyi State.
What incentives have the state put on ground to attract local and foreign investments to the state?
In Ebonyi State, we have well packaged investors-friendly incentives and policies, aimed at ease-of-doing business in the state, and some of them include; tax holidays, good roads network, improved security, attractive opportunities, friendly host communities and others. The governor has made the entire Ebonyi State a global village, and even sensitized the entire communities on how best to host investors who would want to establish in their various communities, especially in the quarry and mining sector. That is why the state is playing host to so many mining organisations who have come to mine our lead, zinc and other solid minerals. This has further created so much empowerment opportunities for our citizens, as well as continues to generate revenues for the government. In the mining sector, the government has created a mining artisan scheme, which is aimed at assisting our local artisan miners to have access to CBN/ Bank of Industry funding facilities, necessary to boost their mining businesses. Most importantly, the governor has put in place legislation on investment promotions, which will protect investments in the state, and assist investors to carry on with their lawful businesses, even during successive governments. The investment laws are essentially for the protection of corporate investors and their businesses in the state, taking into consideration issues of conflict resolutions and related issues. To further open up the economy of the state, the government is constructing a world class international airport, aimed at making Ebonyi State a major destination and hub in Nigeria. By this project, the governor is determined to raise about 60,000 millionaires among our citizens, who would be involved in import and export businesses. He has put in place critical infrastructures necessary to stimulate and promote tourism and global businesses in Ebonyi State. Today, the state is blessed with quality road network, flyovers, beautiful water-fountains which dot all roundabouts, illuminating street lights, modern markets, international shopping malls, light tunnels, stadia and others too numerous to mention here. Sincerely speaking, Gov. Umahi has been a source of blessing to the State since he came into office in 2015; he has clearly transformed Ebonyi State into the Dubai of Nigeria, and indeed Africa. The light tunnel, named after President Muhammadu Buhari is the face of Ebonyi State, and when you get there, you will begin to wonder whether you are in Dubai or somewhere in the western world.
As a leading member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), why did he defect to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)?
The reason behind his movement to the APC is to put Ndigbo on the mainstream; to have a merger with the party at the centre because that has always been the political culture of Ndigbo. We cannot afford to be in double jeopardy; being a hated tribe, and in opposition party. God forbid. Gov Umahi believes that there is a need for us as Ndigbo to re-establish our mainstreaming disposition with the party at the centre with all the advantages, including giving us the propensity, the leverage and the latitude to ask for the presidency in 2023. He said it was not about him, but about the opportunity for the presidency to come to the Igbo in 2023. The governor wants Ndigbo to be part of the ruling government in order to have a voice on issues affecting them. Looking at the numerous transformational achievements he was able to make, even as a PDP governor then, since his party, PDP, does not have a say at the centre, you could imagine what he will achieve now as a member of the ruling APC.
This is a man who became governor when his party, then PDP was not at the centre, but he was determined in promise and commitment to transform the state and take it to a glorious height. It would be recalled that pre-1960, Ndigbo through the National Council of Nigeria Citizens (NCNC), mainstreamed with the party at the centre then, the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), and became relevant at the centre, and were able to accomplish so much in the Eastern Region. In 1999, same was applied as both the federal government and most of the state governors were under the control of the PDP.
What is your take on the security situation in your state?
First, the issue of insecurity and cult wars in the state is most likely an artificial creation by desperate politicians who want to give the impression that there is crime and insecurity in the state, so as to drive their cheap and wicked political objectives. In doing this, they have gotten different cult fraternities to be at war with one another, but the governor in his political will to ensure that the culture and tradition of peace and security is maintained, has taken the bull by the horns by declaring those concerned wanted. Ebonyi State is the safest haven for investors, and has the lowest security profile in Nigeria, according to the Inspector General of Police’s crime records. Apart from that, the security architecture in the state is well fortified, in addition to a robust social security mechanism put in place by the governor. That is why the governor, apart from providing mobility gadgets, social amenities to motivate the conventional federal government security outfits, has also made Ebonyi State a huge construction site, where both the youths and women are gainfully engaged to eke a living.